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. Petersburg Times, published December 10, 2000

Fire chief completes academy program

Tom May, East Lake District Chief has become the third East Lake Fire and Rescue official to graduate from the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md. Assistant chief Jeff Parks completed the program in 1996, followed by Chief Ron Taylor one year later. "It was worth striving for," May said. "The program was such a challenge, first to get in and then to complete." The program requires candidates to write four applied research papers. May researched the benefits of conducting controlled burns in the Brooker Creek Preserve as part of the county's environmental management plan. He also designed training to prevent back injuries because 46 percent of injuries in his department were back-related. For the first two weeks of each six-month session, May lived at the campus near Camp David, Md. He completed his first two weeks in 1996, then brought his research home, cleared the dining room table and began working on each of the 70-page reports. It took four years to finish. Completion of the program is worth 16 graduate-level college credits. May said it helps the community because the research is applied within the local department. May moved to East Lake from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1973. A 1976 graduate of East Lake High School, he joined the Tarpon Lake Volunteer Fire Department as a 16-year-old in 1973. When the department became East Lake Fire and Rescue in 1981, he became a paid employee. He was appointed district chief in 1992. May had applied twice to the program before being accepted. He joins 11 firefighters in Pinellas County and 157 in Florida to earn the certification. There are 1,800 firefighters in the country -an estimated 1 percent -- who have graduated. "I've joined the 1 percent club," he said.